Elvis Costello: Hey Clockface review – A late-era mixed bag
Elvis Costello has been around the block several times since his 1977 debut, My Aim Is True. The creation of this, his 31st studio album, saw him break new ground. “I sang live on the studio floor, directing from the vocal booth,” Costello says. “We cut nine songs in two days. We spoke very little. Almost everything the musicians played was a spontaneous response to the song I was singing. I’d had a dream of recording in Paris like this, one day.”
Costello released an album in 1983 with the Attractions titled Punch the Clock, which spawned the well-known singles Everyday I Write the Book and Shipbuilding. Hey Clockface is more of a late-era mixed bag. Accompanied by a small jazz ensemble called Le Quintette Saint Germain, the early single and title track, Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?, is an excruciating exercise in jaunty jazz.
Mercifully, however, the entire album is not entirely cut from this cloth. Opening with the spoken word of Revolution #49, Hey Clockface soon throws up No Flag, a typically propulsive slice of Costello pop that bristles with anger and discontent. “I’ve got no religion, I’ve got no philosophy,” he sings. “I’ve got a head full of ideas and words that don’t seem to belong to me.”
Hey Clockface features some excellent moments, which confirm the undeniable fact that Costello is a great songwriter. But it is also an uneven album. Hard to imagine it striking a chord much beyond his core fan base.